Are we… halfway? We might be! We also might not be! It is extremely hard to tell, in this Masterchef-mode of airing – which has obviously consequences on how much we believe and are capable of investing in the love stories being told.
(I had exactly this thought at the same point in the last season, and I wrote out some longer thoughts on how narrative and time work there. Here you go.)
As this was last season, this mode of airing is a mistake. If they return to the franchise again, I hope – for my sanity if nothing else – that they go back to a more modest two nights a week.
But I want to spend some time unpacking something I think the show’s done right, before we get into the recap tonight. Let’s talk about the narrative they’re building around Ben.
I think it’s fairly obvious to all of us that Ben does not have a great deal of chat. We have sat through enough excruciatingly awkward conversations with him now for that to be clear. He’s not the worst offender we’ve ever had in that regard – my wooden spoon in this category would probably go to Richie Strachan – but he’s far from our most eloquent Bachie.
However, what I think the show has done with him – instead of trying to paper it over and pretend it away the way they did with Richie – has been really clever, because they’ve turned it into narrative.
I wrote a few recaps ago that they’ve basically cast Ben as their Anthony Bridgerton: the oldest and arguably most eligible of our three suitors, but with some really crushingly obvious flaws. This is a well-established archetype, and hardly one that Julia Quinn invented – we need only think of the deeply socially awkward Mr Darcy to see an antecedent (Ben’s “by the way, I haven’t chopped my nuts off” yesterday is poetry compared to Mr Darcy telling Elizabeth Bennet that he hates her family and her situation and the fact that he’s attracted to her, but sigh, he is, guess we’d better get married).
This heroic archetype is a man that feels deeply, but for whatever reason, cannot or will not express it. If we use Anthony as an example again: he is staggering under the weight of being the head of the Bridgerton family, a role he still feels his father should be occupying, and so he runs directly away from his feelings in the direction of duty. In many modern romances – contemporary as well as historical – we’ll see these kinds of men completely divorce sex from love (one thing I argue about romance novels in my monograph The Consummate Virgin is that romance heroines frequently give heroes feelings as STIs).
We don’t have a perfect match to Ben here, but we have a lot of the same ingredients. The weight that Ben is staggering under is twofold: firstly, the weight of embodying the position of Bachelor, and secondly, he’s got baggage from past relationships. His inability to speak comes from a place of fear, of both failure and being hurt.
But, as the show has tried to tell us for the past few episodes, gradually, as he becomes more comfortable with some of the women, Ben is starting to peek out from behind the walls he’s erected and open up to the possibility of love. It seems reasonably clear to me that his lack of chat is not simply limited to his position as romantic hero – the fact that the show triaged it yesterday by putting him in a place where he’d need to explain things makes this quite clear – however, I do think that in narrative terms, they’re doing a pretty decent job of telling this story and fitting Ben into this well-established heroic mould.
We’ve seen Bachies before who have been presented as fairly flawless, and they’re usually not particularly interesting. Imbuing a Bachie with flaws gives them somewhere to go as a character. We’ve heard the language of “walls” and “vulnerability” and “opening up” a million times on this show – how often have we heard people talk about this? However, I’m not sure this has ever been shown to us quite so explicitly before, and I’ve found it very effective.
(I could have helped you make it more effective though, Bachie. No matter how many compliments I pay you, I’m livid that you didn’t call me.)
Let’s see if this trend continues apace tonight and get into the recap.
We begin on a girl chat picking up on a thread from episode four. A bunch of the women are asking Wesley’s frontrunners – Brea and Jade – how they’re feeling about Wesley’s virginity and the fact that he wants to move sloooooooow.
“If he wanted to wait a year – two years – would you do it?” one of the other women asks.
Neither of them says it, but it’s fairly clearly that no, they would not.
Meanwhile, Wesley is talking about the same thing to the boys… where he’s telling them that he wants to save what he’s calling “moving in together” until marriage.
What a euphemism.
But MATE, for fuck’s sake. You said a few episodes ago that you talk about sex all the time! No you don’t! You talk AROUND sex!
Also another plot point to remember: Angela had a birthday, and Ben bought her some flowers. These are Chekhov’s flowers. Keep them in the back of your mind.
The single dates
Amazingly, even though we’re only in episode six, we’re into some second dates (which feels like each man is basically down to a final two or three, and the rest of the women in the house can go fuck themselves, I guess).
These are single dates which will turn into a group date. Each couple will be cooking a meal, which they’ll then take along to a triple date.
Now, I could explain to you what function cooking dates perform in the Bachie universe – or I could let Murray O’Connell do it:
“One of our tried-and-true date formats was the messy date. We used it whenever we needed to communicate that two people were sexually attracted to each other, because it was an excuse for them to touch each other. Sometimes we did it with paint, sometimes with massage oil, but this time, we did it with food: cookies, specifically, which had the added benefit of being coded very domestic and wholesome and couple-y.” Not Here To Make Friends, p. 136.
We’re not making cookies in these particular dates like Dylan Jayasinghe Mellor and Dylan Gilchrist do in the Marry Me, Juliet universe, but the principle is the same – our couples have the excuse to touch each other while doing something coded deeply domestic.
NB: Wesley is obviously not doing as much touching as the others.
The three couples attending this dinner party are Ben and Amelia, Luke and Ellie, and Wesley and Jade. They’re all cooking their little meals, when – gasp! – there is a knock at Ben’s door.
It’s a HUGE bunch of flowers – signed A.
They’re not from Ben’s date Amelia, so he immediately assumes they’re from birthday girl Angela – instead of assuming what I would, that he’s now in a Pretty Little Liars situation and they’re from a sinister A.
Amelia is wildly upset about these flowers (like, it felt disproportionate to me? you already know there are other women pursuing him? but what do I know, I’ve never been in this situation). She disappears crying into Ben’s bathroom, and cries some more when she re-emerges. It is clear that this will be The Drama of this episode.
But we also have Second Drama, which is Wesley and the rounding of the sexual bases. Jade is asking Wesley the same kind of questions that Brea was the other day around how far he’s prepared to go. We get slightly more detail here – the furthest he’s been is making out, and he wants to make more steps as it feels “organic”.
Ahem. “Organic” is a word that comes up a LOT in romantic discourse, and it often includes an assumption that things will just naturally, magically happen without talking about them. The idea of the organic is seductive, but perhaps not entirely productive.
The triple date
I thought it would be weirder that both Ben and Ellie are on this date after last episode, but it’s not even mentioned.
Instead, the six of them go around the table and ask some clearly producer-planted questions – including some I know for a fact are on the Bachelor application form, because I researched it to write Here For The Right Reasons and Can I Steal You For A Second? (eg. what was the last time you cried and why? what scares you? what keeps you up at night?).
The focus here is mostly on Ben and Amelia – she loves that he made her feel comfortable to express her feelings when she was upset that afternoon, and her greatest fear is getting married and it falling apart, and he’s impressed by how much she’s opening up – but my favourite fact was that Luke loves to read fantasy books. May I direct you towards my Valentine series, sir?
We get some more drama when Luke asks about how many partners people have lived with, and when people should do it, and Wesley’s like “I’ve never lived with anyone and I won’t do it until I’m married”, which Jade is not even remotely into, but I feel like they could have put some spicier questions into the box. Murray O’Connell would have been disappointed.
After the date, when the other two couples have gone home, Ben and Amelia discuss FlowerGate once more, and Amelia sets out an ultimatum. “If you keep pursuing Angela, count me out,” she says. “If you can still like her after what she’s done, then we’re not been together.”
Noted conversationalist Ben – who read the whole thing as bad timing, and who is unimpressed with how Amelia is handling this conflict – says nothing.
Amelia is still upset when she gets back to the mansion, and she pulls some of her friends aside (interestingly, members of the villain clique) to describe the situation.
Angela hears that Amelia is upset, and so drama kicks off. Team Amelia is convinced Angela did it with sinister intent. Team Angela is like, “how would Angela know when the flowers would be delivered? or that you would be on this date? or that they’d even be at his place when they were?”
We have a schism, my friends. Look out for this to explode in the next episode.
The group date
Each Bachie has picked two women to come on a meet-the-friends date – as in, each woman will have a good friend there to vet the Bach.
Somewhat chaotically, Wesley has picked Brea and Lisa, which is a hell of a pairing. I wonder if they were looking for the same kind of chaos that Jess and conscious conversations Damien caused on the last season.
I’m going to be real – this is not that interesting a date. Anastasia is offended that Ben goes to talk to Maddison and her friend before he comes to talk to her and hers, and gets very passive aggressive about it. It’s the kind of extremely minor mountain/molehill stuff it’s kind of impossible to care about. “Anastasia keeps taking bathroom breaks” is just not thrilling television.
Similarly, Luke’s good Bacheloring kind of undoes him here. He has a very nice, very charming date with Tabitha and Lana and their friends, and we get more Stepdad Discourse (Tabitha has one too, Luke is delighted). It’s sweet, but not scintillating.
Wesley’s date could be interesting, but the outcome feels so clear when the choice is between Brea and Lisa. And then he describes Lisa as “worldly” – which is, in my understanding, a bit of an evangelical buzzword for “people we don’t associate with”* – so… yeah, Wesley, you can talk about how much you want to take risks all you want, it’s clear that you won’t be taking this one.
They do, to their credit, try and add some layers to Lisa, using some of the same tools they use with Ben: they play with the idea that she has high walls up because of bad past experiences and a soft inner core. And having her and Wesley bond over how hard it is to live in Australia and leave your family behind overseas is smart! But given how hard they’ve leaned on her villain edit, and how obviously badly suited she is for Wesley, it’s too little, too late for them to parlay her into anything resembling a real contender.
* “Good Christians are supposed to be in the world, since God made it for everyone to enjoy, but not of the world, meaning they shouldn’t share its flesh-driven values.” – Tanya Levin, People in Glass Houses: An Insider’s Story of a Life In & Out of Hillsong, p. 142 (emphasis in original).
A wild Osher appears!
Each Bachie is given a rose. It’s a surprise Thunderdome date! They can each keep only one of their dates – and must cut the other.
Now this date starts to cook with gas.
Lisa knows she doesn’t have a chance of winning a pitched battle against Brea, but she goes all in anyway. “I’m so sorry I’ve never shown you my vulnerable side before,” she tells Wesley. “And now I’m running out of time.”
(Lily Fireball does this to Dylan Jayasinghe Mellor too, by the way – but she’s canny enough at this game to do it in Episode Two, before any kind of Thunderdome situation could arise. Lisa has some good villain game, but Lily understands timing.)
Anastasia also pulls Ben for a chat, but she’s got a different tactic. “You do whatever you want, but I’m going home,” she says. “I won’t be treated like this.”
And so she dramatically takes off her mic and leaves, leaving Maddison to win by default. “This isn’t a consolation prize,” Ben tells her as he gives her the rose, not terribly convincingly.
Luke’s rose goes to Lana, on the grounds that his connection with Tabitha has been a slower burn (and, presumably, that her single date was better) – which leaves Wesley.
The show tries unbelievably hard to build some suspense in, but of course the rose goes to Brea. “Some people just don’t have taste,” Lisa snarls. “Clearly I intimidate the shit out of him.”
Farewell to a villain who was clearly reading some pages out of the Lily Fireball playbook. If we still had a Paradise, she’d be a lock.
If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this recap – thank you! I assume that means you enjoy my writing, so don’t forget that I’m the author of three reality TV rom-coms. Here For The Right Reasons (Bachelor + the first contestant he eliminates) and Can I Steal You For A Second? (contestant + contestant) are out now; while Not Here To Make Friends (villain + producer) will be out in January and is available for pre-order.
You can also catch me on my website: jodimcalister.com.au